A Better Block event temporarily redesigns the Perkins Road overpass area this month

Anyone who participated in the chaotic street party after the Wearin’ of the Green parade last month probably got to experience something few people rarely do: crossing Perkins Road near the overpass without fear of being hit by a car.

For such a popular hangout with trendy shops, cafes and bars, the overpass area is difficult to traverse by foot, bike and even car.

The city and the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) are hoping to change that, launching a demonstration later this month that reimagines what the overpass area could look like with improved infrastructure. Think parallel parking along the road, landscaped pedestrian and biking paths on either side, improved lighting in the shadows of all that concrete and more crosswalks.

“It’s a great opportunity for the city to have a public discussion and for us to test out some things prior to any changes,” says CPEX Senior Vice President Camille Manning-Broome.

Back in 2013, CPEX conducted its first road revamp demonstration in Baton Rouge, called Better Block, along a stretch of Government Street. Its aim was to show residents what the busy thoroughfare could look like if decreased to two lanes with bike paths, medians and landscaping.

Better Block was such a success, Manning-Broome says, that other neighborhoods reached out to CPEX wanting assistance. The overpass area seems the obvious choice for the city’s next urban redesign.

Many businesses are close to the road, which is already ideal for creating a walkable neighborhood, but much of the storefront parking is arranged in a way that cars must back out directly into the street, making it unsafe for drivers and pedestrians.

There’s a crosswalk at Cedardale Avenue near Magpie Café, but nowhere else on this stretch. Pedestrians and cyclists traveling from the Garden District either have to use the dangerous tightrope of a “shoulder” on the overpass bridge or brave the overgrown trail that passes underneath it near Reymond Avenue.

The temporary demonstration will include cleaning up that trail, in addition to adding parallel parking along Perkins Road to extend the outdoor space for businesses. Areas underneath the interstate will also be beautified and lighted, and BREC plans to provide a pop-up park at Ferndale Avenue.

“What’s so great about demonstrations like this is it’s a way for the community to physically become involved in the improvement of an area,” Manning-Broome says, “and that really has to happen with the residents really taking ownership of it.”

Where Better Block on Government Street helped the city finally develop a master plan for its improvements, the future could look just as bright for the much more compact overpass area.

City officials have already been working closely with overpass-area residents to lay the groundwork for such a change, Manning-Broome says. “There’s already a lot of momentum there.”

Better Block Perkins Overpass

The demonstration in the Perkins Road overpass area is set for April 23-24. Find out more information at cpex.org.